A reader writes:
Following up on this, Dan LeBatard’s recent article, “Jason Taylor’s pain shows NFL’s world of hurt,” is a harrowing must read. As a big football fan who nevertheless understands the hypocrisy of my fandom, this details things happening that are more brutal, crude and neanderthal than I would have guessed. I wonder what would happen if more people knew.
A reader defends the organization:
You say the NFL is beginning to look more and more like Big Tobacco but I have yet to see a timeline of research that definitively proves the NFL had the same sort of knowledge on the dangers of concussions that tobacco companies had on tobacco use. The most damning part of the tobacco lawsuits always seemed to be how they knew about and had funded the research showing the incredibly high rates of cancer associated with smoking. They then continued to pretend that cigarettes were actually good for you. The NFL hasn’t done THAT.
I’ve tended to think of concussions as something that everyone understood was bad for you but the long-term consequences weren’t fully understood until relatively recently. Maybe the NFL had a duty to be investigating the effects of concussions, but that’s a far cry from the type of cover-up the tobacco companies engaged in for so long. There doesn’t seem to be any smoking-gun memo. And if the NFL picks up the tab for more retirement benefits, I think they’ll probably survive just fine.
Also, not sure if you said something on it and I missed it, but Obama weighed in on the concussion issue recently in TNR:
I’m a big football fan, but I have to tell you if I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play football. And I think that those of us who love the sport are going to have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence. In some cases, that may make it a little bit less exciting, but it will be a whole lot better for the players, and those of us who are fans maybe won’t have to examine our consciences quite as much.
I tend to be more worried about college players than NFL players in the sense that the NFL players have a union, they’re grown men, they can make some of these decisions on their own, and most of them are well-compensated for the violence they do to their bodies. You read some of these stories about college players who undergo some of these same problems with concussions and so forth and then have nothing to fall back on. That’s something that I’d like to see the NCAA think about.
I think he’s right on about the difference between amateur and professional football. NFL players at this point are well aware of the risks they are taking but they’re also well-compensated. They are freely making the choice. Most fully understand they are trading their bodies for compensation. There have actually been a few references to concussions in recent retirements, but most players are perfectly happy to continue collecting their paycheck. The vast majority of high school and college football players play for free, however, sometimes making their schools significant amounts of revenue, and could be left with the same issues, with none of the support.
Why isn’t there more pressure on colleges to give up football? It’s nice they are at least theoretically providing an education (another issue) but not sure how much value that education will have if the former athletes brains have been turned to mush. If there’s a threat to the NFL, it’s that the pipeline of football talent will dry up. I played high school football but would discourage my son (or daughter, that does happen occasionally) from playing. The NFL will certainly change, maybe even be forced to have its own minor league system, but they’ll probably be able to ride this out by being transparent about the risks players are taking. I don’t see how college football survives though.
Our long-running thread on the subject, “Is Football The Next Big Tobacco?”, is here.